How to use a TENS unit for shoulder pain?

Even if you’re familiar with TENS, you may not know how to use a TENS unit for shoulder pain. However, pain is one of the many shoulder problems that many visits to the doctor are attributed to. As it turns out, the shoulder is the most movable joint in the entire human body, but such freedom of motion comes with a price, which is quite a bit of instability. As a result, the shoulder is extremely susceptible to injury, degeneration and of course pain. Fortunately, this is where TENS comes in. 

The TENS unit’s electrode pads are placed on the shoulders according to the pain that the patient is feeling. If both shoulders are aching, one pad is attached to the bulk of the muscle near the neck, while the other is located nearer the edge of the shoulder. The electrode that’s closer to the shoulder should not be placed on the top of the bone. The patient can check if it is over the bone by slightly pressing on the area where they want to place the electrode pad. If the area is soft and springy, it’s all good. On the other hand, if only one shoulder is the source of pain, two electrodes will remain placed as described above, and an additional pair will be placed underneath the original two. The patient should target the muscles near the spine and over the top of the shoulder blade. 

One of the advantages of a TENS unit is that most such devices come with at least two sets of two electrodes each. As such, you can apply two electrodes on one shoulder, and the other two on the other shoulder, or you can use all four on a single shoulder, as explained above. Though placement is essential, there are other factors to consider when determining how to use a TENS unit for shoulder pain. For example, there is the matter of the settings. The recommended settings for shoulder pain are a pulse width of 260 and a pulse rate of 80 to 100 Hz, adjusted to the most comfortable level of intensity. As for the length of the treatment session, 24 hours is available until initial relief. Afterwards, 20 to 30 minutes, 3 times a day. Remember that both placement and intensity vary depending on several circumstances, such the cause of the pain and the individual characteristics of the patient. 
Thus, patients and physicians need to work together to find the best arrangement for each particular case.
Speaking of cause, it is also important to bear in mind that shoulder pain itself is a symptom and not a condition. Many disorders can lead to shoulder pain, including ankylosing spondylitis, avascular necrosis, brachial plexus injury, a broken arm, bursitis, cancer, cervical radiculopathy, dermatomyositis, a dislocated shoulder, ectopic pregnancy, a frozen shoulder, heart attack, infection, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, pericarditis, pneumothorax, polymyalgia rheumatic, polymyositis, rheumatoid arthritis, rotator cuff injury, a separated shoulder, septic arthritis, shingles, spinal cord injury, strains and sprains, tendinitis, tendon rupture, thoracic outlet syndrome, and torn cartilage. 
With that in mind, and even though TENS is a very effective temporary treatment for the pain part of shoulder pain, the underlying root of the problem should be diagnosed and addressed as soon as possible, in particular if in addition to the shoulder pain there is swelling, redness, and tenderness and warmth around the joint, and also if the joint seems deformed or if you’re unable to use the joint. Emergency medical care should be sought if the pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, chest tightness, bleeding (as a result of injury), or an exposed bone or tendon.

Related Read: How to use a TENS Unit?